For many years, it was believed in the realm of criminal defense that guilt or innocence could be accurately determined through the use of forensic bite mark evidence.
Fort Lauderdale felony defense attorneys know this type of evidence was primarily presented in cases of sexual assault or homicide. If the aggressor had bitten the alleged victim, bite marks left imprinted on the skin were lifted, analyzed and compared with potential suspects in an attempt to draw a match.
The problem, as the Associated Press recently reported, is that since 2000, at least two dozen men convicted of serious crimes primarily on the basis of bite mark analysis have been exonerated. Many of these individuals spent more than a decade in prison before they were freed.
Part of the biggest issue with bite mark analysis is that, like so many other forms of forensic science, it’s value has historically been dramatically overstated. Jurors hear “science” and “forensic” and assume what they’re about to hear is irrefutable proof. Not so.
In the case of bite mark analysis, what we have seen is that it was primarily conducted by a small group of dentists. These individuals were not governed or monitored or held to any industry-wide standard. In fact, there is no independent study or clear-cut scientific proof whatsoever that bite marks on human skin can be definitively matched to patterns made only by one person’s teeth. And yet, their testimony was often pinpointed as key to the prosecution’s case.
Proponents of the practice say it is valid, and has helped to convict some of the country’s most notoriously violent criminals, one of the most prominent being Ted Bundy.
But the issue may be not so much in the method as with the potential bias of the “expert” who is testifying. Some earn upwards of $5,000 per trial.
Years later, a number of these individuals have come back to publicly reverse their opinions. Some examples of bite mark cases that later proved faulty:
–Two men in Mississippi were charged with rape and murder of two different 3-year-old girls in two separate criminal cases. It was later determined that the bite marks on the girls’ bodies were caused by insects and crawfish.
–A man in New Mexico was jailed for the rape and murder of his stepdaughter. She had bite marks on her neck and sperm on her body. It was not until later that it was learned the suspect had a medical condition that prevented him from even producing sperm.
–An Arizona man served 10 years in prison, three of those on death row, after two trials in which a forensic dentist testified that he made the bite marks on the female victim who was found deceased in the bathroom of a bar where he worked at the time. It was only later that DNA evidence cleared him.
With the advent of DNA evidence, bite mark analysis has become more and more obsolete. We know that federal law enforcement agencies no longer use it, and the American Dental Association refuses to recognize it.
But it’s important that we not forget about it entirely. The reason is because it was once held up in courtrooms across the country has definitive proof. It was only later – after significant damage was done and innocent lives were forever scarred – that we learned this wasn’t true.
We need to apply that same kind of critical thinking when we approach DNA and other types of forensic evidence in the courtroom.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
AP IMPACT: Bites derided as unreliable in court, June 16, 2013, By Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press
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Cold Case Detectives Arrest South Florida Man for Sex Assaults, Nov. 24, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Sex Crimes Defense Attorneys